In summer she rarely saw these birds, but cool fall weather always seemed to bring their return to her feeder. She rewarded the jays' presence in the garden with a pile of peanuts each morning. She loved to sit and watched them make quick work of the nuts as she drank her morning coffee. The first jay always seemed to appear as if by magic. It was as if they smelled the fragrant peanuts on the wind. Sometimes as many as ten birds would fill the crabapple by the feeder. Occasionally a squirrel would try to muscle in on the action, but the large birds were thugs that even the squirrels seemed wary of. This morning she had been distracted and had forgotten to put out any peanuts. No doubt these two fellows were here to complain about her negligence.
Suddenly the two jays took flight. Hanna turned to see her neighbour Marilyn approaching on the other side of the chainlink fence. Quickly Hanna turned back to her waiting bulbs hoping to avoid eye contact. She plunged the shovel deep into the earth and heard the blade clink as it came into contact with something hard. Damn! A rock or perhaps something worse- a chunk of concrete. Hanna knew well that there used to be an old shed on this part of the property. The shed had burned down in a fiery blaze not long before she had bought the house. In the blaze a group of nearby trees had caught fire and volunteer firefighters from the neighbouring town had to be called in. When the flames were extinguished, nothing of the shed remained but the old foundation. All these years later, she was still unearthing bits of that stone and concrete.
There was a rustle of fall leaves under foot and Hanna looked up to see her neighbour standing on the other side of the chainlink fence beside her. Marilyn nodded in the direction of Hana's basket filled with tulips,"Planting bulbs so late in the season?" It was framed as a question, but it felt more like a reprimand. How Hanna disliked this woman! She was such a horrible busybody. Always there some nasty bit of neighbourhood gossip Marilyn felt compelled to share.
"Yes. And I'm afraid I'm in a bit of a rush because, it is already getting rather dark," Hanna replied more curtly than was characteristic.
"Well then, I guess won't keep you... although I had an interesting story I was going to share," Marilyn replied sounding a little hurt. She turned on her heels and walked back in the direction of her house.
Oh dear, Hanna was bound to pay for that little slight! A chill wind whistled through the branches of the crabapple. Dusk was gathering rapidly and there wasn't a moment to waste on regrets, if Hanna ever hoped to get that stone out and her tulips planted. She stabbed at the ground with the blade of her shovel feeling for the edge of the rock or concrete. Oddly enough, the clank she kept hearing sounded more like metal than it did like stone. Finally, the blade located the outer edge of the object and Hanna pried down hard on the shaft of her shovel. It refused to budge. Several more failed attempts and Hanna began to sweat.
There was a flutter of wings and Hanna paused to see the jays had returned. They called out repeatedly, but Hanna had no patience for renewed distractions. She was bound and determined to get the darned impediment out. Once again she levered the shovel handle hard. The object suddenly gave way almost sending her falling backwards. At least now she could see the thing sitting at the bottom of the hole. To her surprise, it was a metal box wrapped inside a plastic covering. She picked the object up and wiped the plastic clean with the palm of her hand. Inside the bag was a floral biscuit tin. How very odd! She shook the box and something rattled inside. What luck! A mysterious buried treasure!
In the crabapple the two jays began shrieking at one another. One of the birds seemed to have discovered a hidden nut inciting the wrath of the other. The jay with the peanut took flight and the other followed in hot pursuit.
Hanna was alone again. All at once, she felt exhausted. It was really getting late. The cold and gloom of the of nightfall was beginning to invade the garden. The bulbs would have to wait until morning. Hanna thew the biscuit tin into the basket along with the unplanted tulips and headed back to the house.
In the kitchen she placed the basket on the counter and turned to the fridge to find the leftovers she planned to warm up for her supper. No sooner has she opened the refrigerator door, when she heard a loud crash. Swinging around, she saw that the biscuit tin had fallen to the floor. Funny! Hanna had been certain she had placed it deep in her basket.
Bending down, she picked up the rectangular tin. Hanna rattled the contents yet again and couldn't help but wonder what was inside. Overwhelmed with curiosity, she tore open the dirty plastic bag. The image on the cover of the floral tin was quite beautiful. Pictured against a dull olive backdrop was a vase perched on the edge of a dark green table. Spilling from inside the tan colored vase were roses, iris, tulips and other spring flowers. Hanna slipped her nail under the lip of the top and popped the lid open. Inside was a note on a torn slip of paper. Picking it up, she read the erratic looking handwriting.
If you are unlucky enough to find this horrible thing, bury it again IMMEDIATELY or evil will follow you all of the days of your life.
Okay, that was a bit disturbing! Hanna looked past the note into the tin. In one corner she saw what looked like a tiny claw. A bird of prey or perhaps the claw of a small mammal? She picked it up and touched the tip of the claw with her finger. Ouch! It was sharp too. A tiny drop of blood appeared on Hanna's fingertip. Not exactly the buried treasure one would hope for! She read the note again, and such an overwhelming sense of dread filled her, she hurriedly placed the two things back in the box and closed the lid. Generally speaking, she wasn't slightest bit superstitious, but she had to admit to herself that the whole thing was beginning to make her feel more than a little bit anxious.
When Hanna returned to the kitchen after supper an hour or so later, she was surprised to find the mysterious tin was again on the floor. It lay open, with the note and claw resting beside it. Now things were really getting strange! She placed the contents back in the tin. Going to the door, she opened it, and threw the tin onto the back porch. It was going into the garbage first thing in the morning!
She washed up her dinner dishes, turned off the kitchen light, and went to watch tv in the living room. A craving for some microwave popcorn made her head back to the kitchen a few hours later. When she entered the hall, she was surprised to find the kitchen light on. She would have sworn she'd shut that light off! Even more peculiar, the porch light was on!
Going to the back door, Hanna peaked out the window to see if the tin was still there. The lid sat open with the note right beside the tin. Flushing with frustration, she locked the back door and switched off the lights. Any desire for popcorn had vanished. It after well after ten anyway. Better to head to bed. How weary she felt as she switched off the television and turned toward the staircase!
When she reentered the hallway however, Hanna stopped dead in her tracks. The kitchen and the porch lights were on yet again and this time the back door was slightly ajar! The room was quickly filling with freezing night air.
Now things were getting just plain freaky! What had the silly note said? To bury the tin again immediately? Fine! Hanna angrily threw on her overcoat and reached up to the top shelf in the hall cupboard for a flashlight. If darn tin wanted burying, that's just what she'd do! Rushing onto the back porch she grabbed the note, placed it in the tin and slammed the lid closed. In her haste, she forgot to check for the tiny claw. Little did she realize that it still lay in a dark corner.
Grabbing her shovel, Hanna marched out into the black and white world of the night. A strong wind whipped open Hanna's unbuttoned coat and she shivered in the cold. The backyard was dark, but the moonlight bouncing off a cloudy sky illuminated the lawn, and outlined the craggy silhouette of the trees that towered above it. Too spooked however to go it alone without the comfort of light, Hanna switched on her flashlight. "Let's just get this over with," she muttered under her breath. She flashed the beam of light across the yard to the flowerbed where she had unearthed the cursed thing. Half way down the length of the backyard, a bird startled by the unexpected glow of the flashlight took flight. As it floundered around in the darkness, there was a mad flutter of wings before the bird found the safety of another branch.
When Hanna finally reached the hole she had dug earlier in the afternoon, she set the flashlight down on the ground. She reached under her arm for the box and threw it unceremoniously into the hole. She had almost buried it again when she heard the soft tread of approaching footsteps. This latest fright was too much to bear! To scared to move, Hanna stood hunched over her shovel. The beam of another flashlight flashed into her eyes and she raised one hand to block the glare.
"Rather late to be working out in the garden isn't it?" It was Marilyn' s husband Jack standing on the other side of their communal fence. "We were heading off to bed when my wife saw a light in the backyard. She was absolutely convinced we were about to be robbed or that some teenage pranksters were up to no good. What the hell are you doing out in the garden at this ungodly hour anyway?"
Hanna felt her temper rise in a way she had never experienced before. What annoying neighbours Marilyn and her idiot husband were! Always poking there nose in where it didn't belong!
"You've managed to frighten my wife so badly she refused to go to bed until I went out in the freezing cold to see what was going on," Jack shouted, "Can't you do your gardening in the daytime like a normal person?"
This sent Hanna into a rage. How dare he? What business was it of theirs what she did in the privacy of her own backyard? Her hand tightened its grip on the handle of the shovel and she felt overcome with an uncontrollable impulse to do evil. At that exact moment a cloud passed in front of the moon deepening the darkness. Madly Hanna sprung toward the fence, and with all her might, she swung the shovel at Jack's head. The surprised man didn't stand a chance.
The wail of sirens and the reflection of red lights on the bedroom walls awoke Hanna in the middle of the night. Dropping her feet to the floor, Hanna slid her toes into her fuzzy slippers. She strode across the bedroom carpet to the window, where she parted the curtains to look outside. Several police cruisers and an ambulance were sitting out front. A few minutes later the crowd of police officers lining her neighbour's walkway parted to let two ambulance attendants pass with a draped figure on a gurney. An obviously hysterical Marilyn dressed in her robe and flippers suddenly appeared on the front stoop only to be lead back inside the house by one of the attending officers.
Letting go of the curtain panel, Hanna staggered backyard. Her head was spinning wildly. Was it all just a bad dream? No.... the evening's terrifying events all came flooding back to her. She walked unevenly down the hall to the tiny bathroom, where she grabbed a glass of cold water and two extra strength Tylenol from the medicine cabinet.
She was about to crawl back into bed, when she heard the repeated ring of the front door bell. Opening the door, she found a handsome, but troubled looking young police officer."I'm sorry to disturb you ma' am, but there has been an incident next door."
"Oh my goodness!," Hanna exclaimed, "What's happened?"
"I'm not at liberty to say, but a body has been found."
Hanna gasped as if shocked, and leaded back against on the handle of her front door.
"We're hoping to have your permission to enter your backyard to look around further," the officer continued.
Hanna brought her hand up to her heart. "Why of course! Anything to help!"
The officer tipped his hat. "Thank you ma'am. Hopefully we won't have to disturb your evening further."
"That's quite alright officer. I doubt I'll get a wink of sleep now!" Hanna smiled weakly and shut the front door. Alone in the darkness of the front hall, Hanna sighed with relief. She may have lost her mind, but thank goodness she'd had the foresight to ditch the garden shovel where no one would ever find it.
In the spirit of Halloween, something a little different.
Back to normal gardening posts next, I promise!
Kisses to make it better!